Woods paired with Kuchar and Choi to start
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- And the winners (or losers, depending on your perspective) are in:
Matt Kuchar and K.J. Choi will be paired with Tiger Woods in the first two rounds of the Masters.
In what will be Woods' first competitive round since winning the Australian Masters last November 15, the group will go off at 1:42 p.m. EDT on Thursday, and 10:35 a.m. on Friday
The time for the group ensures that some of Woods' round will be part of ESPN's live telecast, which begins at 4 p.m. Friday will be a different story since coverage of morning play will only be available on Masters.com.
Kuchar learned of the pairing from competitions chairman and former USGA president Fred Ridley on the first tee of his practice round Tuesday.
"I kind of anticipated it," Kuchar said. "Just about everybody in the field said, 'It's probably going to be me.' We all figured somebody has got to get the lucky straw and I got the lucky straw.
Which is not to say Kuchar is dreading the experience.
"There are so many things about the whole scenario," Kuchar said. "It's going to be cool to have a front row seat for it."
This will not be the first time that Kuchar and Woods have been paired together in the first round of the Masters, although the circumstances this time are much different. They also played together n 1998, when Woods was the defending Masters champion and Kuchar had earned the pairing by virtue of his win in the U.S. Amateur. Kuchar shot 72-76 those first two rounds before rallying on the weekend, while Woods shot 71-72 en route to a T-8 finish.
Choi also found out about the pairing on the course, on the 14th hole of his practice round.
"I hope to play on a golf course where everyone is supporting every player. Tiger is a great talent and a great player. This week I hope the gallery is supporting him. I'm pleased that it happens for all players."
Questions about the challenges of being paired with Woods had already been a popular topic here. Asked about it in his news conference on Wednesday, Woods pointed out that the Masters is actually the easiest major on his playing partners since it is the only one that doesn't allow the media inside the ropes.
"It's going to be a lot more at ease this week than most week, so I think that most of the guys -- if there's one week that you would rather have a pairing with me considering the circumstances, it would probably be this week," Woods said.
Well, yes. It's been widely theorized that one of the reasons Woods picked Augusta National for his return is the strict control Masters organizers have over everyone from media to fans. But even if it won't be as hectic as a similar return would be at say, the Players Championship, the gallery following Woods' group on Thursday is likely to be big enough to make the rest of course feel desolate (Phil Mickelson, playing with Y.E. Yang and Robert Allenby, falls on the opposite side of the draw, teeing off Thursday morning and Friday afternoon).
So many eyes might mean an added strain for the players by Woods' side.
"It's one more thing maybe you don't have to worry about it in a major championship," Mike Weir said Tuesday morning.
Still, some players said they would have welcomed the pairing, perhaps for no other reason than it may heighten their own excitement as well.
"It's always a little different playing with Tiger at the Masters than it is anywhere else, because the patron anticipation of his round and the scrutiny and everything is so intense here, that is just feels a little different than other places," said Stewart Cink, who played with Woods in the first round here in 2000 and 2009. "I would expect that whoever plays with him this week, me or somebody else, that it would be probably similar to other Masters experiences playing with Tiger. A little bit different but it's always fun. I love watching him hit shots, and I would love the opportunity."
-- *Sam Weinman